Taking risks during Christmas in China

From the stories my grandmother used to tell me when I was little, there is one I often think about come Christmas.

It was 1895 and my grandfather’s parents, Dagny and Robert, were newlyweds. They lived in a small Chinese mountain village called Hancheng in the northwest. There were no other Europeans there, and it was their first Christmas in this village. It probably felt at bit empty, but they were very happy when they got invited to celebrate Christmas together with a couple of British missionaries in a town down on the big plain.

Newlyweds, Robert and Dagny in 1895.


For some reason they left a bit later than planned. They had to go by wagon if they didn’t want to ride mules or horses for many hours. At the time, decent people didn’t go out after dark, only robbers and thieves roamed the surroundings. That’s why they usually planned to get to another village before dark, and only travel during daylight. But, when they were finally ready to set off, it was so dark they could hardly see their own hands in front of them. The road was almost impossible to make out and in a very poor condition. The cold was getting worse and when they had travelled for a couple of hours, one of the wagon wheels suddenly got stuck in a deep hole in the road.

My great grandfather Robert, and the chinese coachman tried everything to get the wagon up and running again, but to no avail. It was stuck. Robert and the coachman decided to set out in one direction each to find help. Unfortunately, there were no lights or sounds suggesting that there were people nearby. Suddenly, Robert saw traces of a lone wolf. He froze and turned back to the wagon.

The wolves were a real pain in these mountainous parts of the country. They attacked both humans and animals and meeting people with scars from wolf teeth was not at all unusual. Children early learned that if a wolf tried to drag them away, they had to put their arms around the wolf’s head – that way the bite would not cut so deep into the child and they would also weigh down the wolf’s head so that it couldn’t run so fast. Robert thought about all of this when he came back to his wife but decided to only tell her to keep on praying. He then went looking for help again.

Not long after, three men came towards him. Robert looked at them and wondered what they could possibly want out there in the dark. He decided to walk towards them and politely bow to them. They didn’t look like robbers or thieves – instead they were well dressed and very polite in return. They bowed to Robert and asked if they could be of assistance. He thanked them but felt very confused – they didn’t even haggle over the price for offering their help.

Once by the wagon, the three men looked at the wagon, put their shoulders against it and in a flash the wheel was free from the hole. Nobody could tell how they did it, but the wagon was safely moved onto the field to the side of the ruined road. Robert bowed to them and asked what he owed them.
“Nothing,” they said.
He tried again, but they didn’t want any money. They just turned around and left.

“Where did they go?” Dagny asked Robert.
“I don’t know. They just disappeared. I think they were angels sent by God to help us,” Robert answered.

Robert and Dagny continued their journey and finally arrived at their friend’s place. Tired, but filled with joy and gratitude.

Chinese village 1890’s

When my grandmother told me this story, I always felt very happy they managed to get to their friend’s place in time for Christmas. I know I was a bit scared when hearing it – mainly because of the wolves, and also because of the three strange men who showed up just like that. Of course I knew they would be all right, and that the moral of the story was to trust God to make everything work out – but I couldn’t help being a bit angry at my great grandfather for putting them all through such a risk. Why not leave the day after? And why did he go away a second time, having seen the wolf traces?

We all put ourselves at risk from time to time. Sometimes we feel like nothing can hurt us – we’re invincible. Sometimes we just don’t care what happens. And probably most of the time, we don’t know what we’re getting into.

I think my great grandparents were very brave people. They didn’t deliberately put themselves at risk, but in some ways they were a bit too trusting – believing they were safeguarded by their faith and if their time had come, that would be all right too. Maybe that’s a way to think about life – do what you have to do and don’t worry so much about what may happen. What is to come will come anyway.

Merry Christmas! ❤


7 comments

  1. What an interesting story! The facts are hard to explain logically: the appearance of the men at night, the fact that they were well-dressed and didn’t want money, and the fact that they were able to free the wagon. I suppose they could have been workmen who were dressed up for a special event and didn’t want to take money as a matter of pride. Whatever the explanation, it’s a great story!

    I’ve taken some risks in my life, probably not more than most people, but I know I’ve been very lucky. I don’t worry much now about dangers (except for Covid-19), but I also take fewer risks as I get older. People who travel have a mindset more accepting of risk, I think.

    Merry Christmas! 🎄❄️

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, who knows what they were doing there. Especially since it seems these men were far away from any nearby village. But the story might have served as a means to strengthen the belief in the power of the prayer. Perhaps it was a way to educate their children in how to interpret the world and believe they would be looked after as long as they had faith. I know my great grandmother Olga told her daughter this life was just a passage – real life was after death and if they only kept their faith strong they would meet in the after life. I can’t help but thinking it was a shame they didn’t meet more in this life…
      I too, have taken risks. Some, that I today would never subject myself to. But, like you, I take fewer risks today – probably because one can see the consequences of one’s choices more clearly with maturity and experience. The challenge now is to keep cool as one’s kids go through that same maturity process -not so easy… 🙂

      Merry Christmas, Brad!

      Liked by 3 people

  2. You’re right that it’s not easy to keep cool as our kids go through the maturation process, bound and determined to make the same foolish mistakes we did.

    I enjoyed reading your grandmother’s story. Once the three men had performed their good deed and left, all I could think of was the Three Wise Men. I remember my dad preaching a sermon about not placing blind faith in God’s protecting us from our own risky behavior. I’m learning a lot about the missionary’s view of the world and its relation to God from your posts.

    Liked by 4 people

    • It does seem one has to make one’s own mistakes to truly learn something from it 🙂

      The three wise men – yes, it’s a very interesting thought – all well dressed, showing up like that. Perhaps Robert & Dagny embellished the story a bit when telling it to their children around Christmas!
      I think your father was right in his sermon – risks are risks and one needs to be aware of that one’s choices have consequences. Lovely that you find you learn something from my small stories – that makes me very happy and grateful!

      Liked by 4 people

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